Fast Company: Vindor working to make all kids welcome in music class

Jed Gottlieb wrote about a project we are working on in Virginia to create a custom software for our Vindor that will let students with physical limitations play an instrument in music class. A student is class was missing a pinky and had limited mobility in some fingers. Vindor worked with teachers and the school to develop a special fingering system that is similar to the recorder so the student can join her classmates in class. Read the free article to learn more.

Boston Globe Covers Vindor

Scott Kirsner wrote and article for the Boston Globe about the Vindor. There's a great photo of Joel playing at the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra during a David Bowie tribute show at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. Read the article if you have a subscription.

It was great meeting Scott. He is a wonderful writer and very insightful in his analysis of the challenges facing any startup making musical instruments. Luckily, we have a lot of advisors and are really working hard to make sure the Vindor is a great success.

Practicing on a Plane

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I've never been able to practice music when people are listening in or watching me. I once had a friend want to watch me practice, and as much as I wanted to let them, it made it into a performance and I just played them some songs instead of working on things where I needed to improve. Practicing has always been a very personal space for me where I work on the things with which I'm weakest, and it's hard to show that weakness to other people.

A few weeks ago, I traveled from Boston to Seattle to visit some friends and some people throw some fish around. Seattle's a great spot, but it is a pretty long plane ride away. So, I did the only reasonable thing a saxophonist could do and bring my Vindor ES1 with me in my carry-on bag in case I had some down time on my trip. I was so sure the TSA was going to ask me about this device, but surprisingly it went through the screening without an issue.

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About an hour into the trip, I got tired of reading and wanted to do something more active, so instead of playing a game on my phone, I decided to take out the ES1 and practice with it through my earbuds. I had a couple of songs I had to learn for some videos we were shooting, so why not practice when I had a couple of hours where I couldn’t do anything else? It was awesome. I was in my own world practicing these songs and both of the people next to me had no idea. My wife was busy reading a book, and the kid who was on my other side was having fun playing video games. The Vindor ES1 even fit comfortably with the seat table down, so I could put my phone down to look at music transcriptions. I got a good hour or so of practicing in before the plane had to start landing.

I never thought that I’d play saxophone on an airplane, but here we are.

Vindor Music awarded City of Somerville grant

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We are delighted to announce we have secured support and funding from City of Somerville’s Engineers-in-Residence program!  This will support us as we continue to work to bring the Vindor ES1 electronic saxophone to market and as we finalize all design and pre-manufacturing phases before we launch our funding in October. 

It makes us part of the first round of Engineers-in-Residence program backed by the City of Somerville, Greentown Labs, and the Northeast Advanced Manufacturing Consortium.

We want to thank all parties who make this possible and make Massachusetts such a great location for startups and innovators. Access to programs like this really helps companies such as us to address manufacturing challenges and to make our visions real.

You can read our announcement on this here – we would like to thank you everyone who has helped us to secure this and all of you who continue to support us as we rethink musical instruments!

As we continue to take strides to bring the Vindor ES1 to market, we are sharing updates, offers and insights – sign up here to get the news first.

Why Even Non-Sax Players Should Be Excited for the Vindor ES1

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I’ve never played a traditional saxophone. Or any woodwind for that matter. But I can’t wait to add the Vindor ES1 to my arsenal of music gear. Sure, learning how to play the sax with a diminished learning curve is an amazing proposition, and something that will be on my to-do list. But what really gets my musical imagination worked up is the ES1’s MIDI functionality. Though the technology driving the MIDI protocol is 35 years old, artists and engineers are constantly pushing music forward using this intersection of sound waves and electrons.

 Ikutaro Kakehashi (Feb. 1930 - April 2017) is regarded as a pioneer for inventing synthesizers and drum machines, like the Roland 909 above, that are still used today and are sought after not only as music production tools but also as objets d'art.

Ikutaro Kakehashi (Feb. 1930 - April 2017) is regarded as a pioneer for inventing synthesizers and drum machines, like the Roland 909 above, that are still used today and are sought after not only as music production tools but also as objets d'art.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and was developed by a cadre of synthesizer engineers from Japan and the US. Ikutaro Kakehashi of Roland, Tom Oberheim of Oberheim Electronics, and Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits devised a universal protocol that would allow electronic music equipment from different manufacturers to communicate with one another. For example, a MIDI-equipped keyboard synthesizer could synchronize with a MIDI-equipped drum machine to trigger drum hits along with certain notes played on the keyboard. Or a MIDI file could function like a player-piano music roll, triggering a video game console’s sound processor to create background music. Furthermore, MIDI, being unleashed in the early 1980s, grew up right alongside the personal computer. Connecting a MIDI instrument to a computer allowed musicians, classically trained or otherwise, to compose songs on a graphical grid as opposed to a standard G- and F-clef.

The creators of MIDI knew flexibility would be key to its success. A variety of parameters can be defined on a virtual instrument, such as the waveform’s attack, decay, sustain, and release, each with 128 levels of sensitivity. And while keyboard- and touch-based synths can approximate the breathy qualities of a saxophone, they often don’t hit the mark. The Vindor ES1 creates MIDI data based on the player’s blowing into the mouthpiece and applies it to the aforementioned attack, decay, sustain, and release parameters, creating MIDI data that can be sent over USB to a computer or external synthesizer. The qualities of a woodwind – a highly controllable attack, decay, sustain, and release – can finally be applied to virtual instruments in an accurate way.

 Most synths, like to Korg MS-20 above, use a piano-style keybed as an input mechanism. The Vindor ES1 uses the rising and falling of the player's breath to measure attack, decay, sustain, and release.

Most synths, like to Korg MS-20 above, use a piano-style keybed as an input mechanism. The Vindor ES1 uses the rising and falling of the player's breath to measure attack, decay, sustain, and release.

Sure, MIDI controllers that use a wind-based approach have been on the market for a few years, but these are often prohibitively expensive, use strange and uncomfortable buttons to control certain parameters, and use proprietary mouthpieces. The musicians and engineers behind MIDI knew that charging manufacturers to use the technology would be detrimental to its proliferation and therefore did not require any licensing fees. While we do have to charge for manufacturing and engineering costs, Vindor is taking a similar approach and making the ES1 available to as many people as possible by maintaining an affordable price point, and I can’t wait to see what new techniques and sounds ES1 users come up with by using its MIDI functionality.

Playing for Boston's Tall Ships

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This year, a cover band that I play in was offered a gig playing for Sail Boston 2017, a large festival in the Seaport District of Boston, MA, celebrating the Tall Ships’ return to Boston. Thousands of people came to see the ships and eat at various food vendors. Since security was bit tight, the band actually had to lay out all of our instruments so a security team could search them for anything nefarious. As much as my horn can be a deadly musical weapon, we appreciated the intention of keeping all of the spectators safe.

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Anyway, I like to keep things interesting and exciting with the band, so in addition to my saxophone, I brought the Vindor ES1. I specifically brought it for one song. We decided to play “I Keep Forgettin'” by Michael McDonald and to then go into one verse of “Regulate” by Warren G. because they sample the Michael McDonald groove for that song. In the beginning of “Regulate,” there's an iconic synth line. Though we originally had the horns play that line, the ES1 gave it a much more authentic feel by using one of its on-board synth sounds.  It was a blast and the rest of the band really enjoyed hearing that line come from the Vindor ES1. The audience loved hearing the mashup, and the Vindor got some great reactions. I made sure to play it for a few other songs as well just to have some fun lead synth solos. 

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It's exciting being able to play hip hop lines and bring in a new dimension to a cover band. At Vindor, we hope that the ES1 inspires both new and experienced musicians to explore new tones and styles.

Reflecting on Zumix's Experimental Music Ensemble

Running a music ensemble with different groups of teenagers is an incredible experience.  I had the great opportunity to test out the Vindor ES1 at Zumix with two different “Experimental Music Ensembles” with students who had a varied range of musical experience. It both gave me unique insight into how different people view the creation of music, and it gave the students a great chance to explore new forms and styles of music that they hadn't seen before. But with both the ensembles, the students mostly appreciated being part of a group and creating and playing music together.

One of my favorite experiences took place in the second semester of the Experimental Music Ensemble. There were only a few students in the band. We had already written a few songs together, but when looking for inspiration, one person thought it could be fun to write a hip hop groove and invite two other students to rap over it. The students all found their own role in this song only using the Vindor ES1 and one person on drums. One, who was also taking bass lessons at the time, decided to play in the lower range of the ES1 and the other, who was taking saxophone lessons at the time, wrote some very interesting rhythmic figures to play over the drum beat.  

The first rehearsal with the rappers was very inspiring. The rappers had only ever worked with pre-recorded backing tracks before and had never had the experience of playing with a live band. When they started rapping more aggressively, the band followed suit and started playing a bit louder. When the band switched grooves to something more mellow, the rappers would switch who was on the microphone to change dynamics. These moments don't always happen with professional bands, and I was certainly not expecting this with students who had only been playing the Vindor ES1 for two months. After that first rehearsal, the rappers were really excited and expressed to me how fun it was to play with a band.

Putting something new in front of these kids gave us back some life experiences that the students will never forget. Trying out a new instrument put them in a situation where everyone was willing to get out of their comfort zone and create something as a group. They worked on finding weird sounds they could make from the instrument and took new directions of influence in their songwriting. A big part of running an ensemble at Zumix is to let the kids take their own direction with the band, and it was incredibly rewarding to see where they took it and how they grew as a group.

Vindor: Pilot program completed: The ES1 journey continues...

On behalf of the team at Vindor Music I’m excited to share an update on the ES1, our electronic saxophone.

We’ve completed our pilot program, which included a collaboration with ZUMIX, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to building community through music and the arts. Joel, our chief musicologist, was able to spend time with the students to show them the ES1, play alongside them, and answer questions. Here’s feedback from Corey DePina, the youth development and performance manager at ZUMIX:

“The electronic saxophone workshop experience here at ZUMIX was priceless. Allowing our students the opportunity to play a new instrument, and to understand the engineering and creation of such a product, was illuminating. They got to ask the Vindor team about the process of making the instrument, and the ES1’s electronic saxophone workshop inspired and granted access for students to play and think creatively about music, technology and engineering.”

It was crucial to our team that we included children in the pilot program because the ES1 is designed for anyone over the age of six to easily and affordably learn the saxophone, clarinet, or flute. The students at ZUMIX were alongside testers of all different skill levels and ages including saxophone enthusiasts and music professionals. Working across these different groups has allowed us to gather vital feedback so we could “fine-tune” the ES1’s usability, features and ergonomics. And now we are ready for the next stage.

Our vision is to make music fun, easy and accessible by changing how people learn to play musical instruments. Please join us – sign up via our homepage for updates and news on the ES1, music education and events we’ll be at as we continue to increase awareness of the ES1 ready for its formal launch this Fall.  

 

5 Ways to Stay Motivated When Learning Music

Playing music is fun. But learning music can sometime seem like a lot of work. While practicing your scales and other exercises can sometimes feel tedious, here are five things you or your child can do to stay motivated and enjoy playing music. 


5. See Live Music and Talk with the Bands
There are so many opportunities to see live music, and it can be truly inspiring to see how other musicians are mastering the same instrument that you play. You don't have to go to a show at a crowded arena or music festival; there will be many smaller shows in your area. You'll get to see some incredible local musicians or smaller touring acts who will probably have time to chat with you afterwards about music. I've learned about some of my favorite musicians from talking to saxophonists outside the music venue after the show. Plus, musicians are typically happy to share their experiences with their fans, so even if it feels intimidating, they will usually be happy to talk with you for a bit after the show. And if your child is learning music, they will really appreciate the time these professional musicians will give to them after you see them play. I know that for me, after seeing great musicians, I've always gone home afterwards and practiced. It's very inspiring to see where the practice can lead.

4) Learn songs that you like to listen to.
Yes, you have to have to eat your vegetables, but sometimes you need to treat yourself and get some ice cream. When I see that my students are starting lose motivation, I give them some more popular songs to learn and I've noticed the change in how much they practice when it's something they want to learn. It also doesn't matter what instrument you play. If you play flute and love Metallica, then learn the most rocking version of “Enter Sandman” on flute. If you play guitar and love Tchaikovsky, then learn the melody to the nutcracker suite on the guitar. Your teacher should be able to help you find versions of the songs that will be in your skill level, so don't hesitate to ask your teacher about songs you want to learn.

3) Find the really weird sounds your instrument can make.
Sometimes you don't want the squeaks and squaks, but sometimes you do. Just as guitarists will experiment with pedals to achieve different tones, you can explore other weird sounds on any instrument. And while you may need to apologize ahead of time to your neighbors, you'll have a blast finding all the weird things your instrument can do. When teaching recorder, my students loved learning how to “growl” with the instrument by singing into it while playing. They found making these weird sounds super fun, and it kept them motivated. It's also a fun break from playing exercises and can lead to having a unique voice on your instrument.

2) Play with friends.
Music is simply more fun to play with other people. Find people who are in the same skill level as you so you can learn together and from each other. It can help if you both play the same instrument, as you can more easily understand what your friend is doing. But most bands have multiple instruments, so it can be extra motivating to play with someone who plays a different instrument. There are a bunch of arrangements of almost any song, so you'll be able to find something fun to play together. If your child needs someone to play with, you can ask their teacher for any other students they could meet up with, or learn an instrument yourself to play with them. As an adult, there are a lot of people of all skill levels who want to play music, so don't be afraid to search them out on various message boards and local online forums.

1) Set up a performance.
For some people, having a goal of a performance can help keep you motivated to practice. Showing off your skills can be a great experience. Plus, having a performance in mind can prompt you to practice your music to the point that you feel comfortable with playing it in public. This doesn't have to be Carnegie Hall; it can be something as simple as learning your dad’s favorite song for his birthday. You can also ask your teacher about organizing a recital. There are plenty of opportunities to play in your area. If you feel confident enough to play in front of strangers, you'll find that local jam sessions and open mic nights can be a community-friendly experience and a great way to make friends who you can play with. Ask your local music store where you can play, or look up your local coffee shops and venues to see what's happening around town. Many of these events are all-ages, so even as a teenager or pre-teen, you can have a great chance to jam with more seasoned musicians.

5 Things to Do Before Starting Music Lessons

Learning music is something so many people want to do, but for those who have never tried to play an instrument, it seems like a daunting task. As a music teacher, I have found that there are few things both beginners and parents of beginners should do before starting music lesson in order to get the best experience they can from their teacher.

5) Find out what music you or your child likes.

While you will be exposed to new types of music as you work with a teacher, it can really help both the student’s and the teacher's experience to come in with some ideas of what you like. This can help shape the direction the teacher takes with the songs you will learn and make for a much more enjoyable experience. If you love Led Zeppelin, it will be more fun – and more rewarding - to learn their songs, as opposed to learning how to play classical music. 

Not everyone knows what they like, especially younger kids who haven't been exposed to a lot of music yet. This offers a great opportunity to go out to shows, see people play, and listen to music with your kids. Kids will be honest about what they like and they will get excited to know that they can learn a song they recently discovered.

4) Pick an instrument that works for you.

 Consider the student's existing strong points when deciding on which instrument to learn.

Consider the student's existing strong points when deciding on which instrument to learn.

Picking the right instrument to learn can make the difference between having a successful time learning music and struggling through it. But it can be difficult to find the right instrument for you. You'll want something that you enjoy playing, otherwise you'll quickly lose interest. So, think about the sound that you like and what role in a band you may like to serve as, and consider if you think you might be able to learn some of the basics fairly quickly. It's best to try out a lot of instruments to see what you like, but if you can't, you can still try a few things to see what you'd like.

Different instruments require different skill sets, so finding an instrument that fits your style can make things much easier.  Brass and woodwinds each require a specific embouchure, so you may want to see if you can make a sound out of them before taking lessons. If you're great at playing glass bottles by blowing air over them, flute may be a great choice. If your hands are dexterous, guitar or bass may be an easy choice for you. Or, if you prefer to sit down when everyone else is standing on stage, the drum set may be your favorite option. This is by no means a way to define the right instrument for you, so make sure to try out a bunch at your local music store and see what comes easily to you.

3) Find a teacher with a good personality fit.

 Choose a teacher who your child is comfortable with and who is professional.

Choose a teacher who your child is comfortable with and who is professional.

Not all musicians have the same personality, and neither do music students. You'll be spending a lot of time with your teacher, and a lot of time practicing for your teacher, so you had better like him or her. A teacher that you get along with and respect will inspire you to practice and become a better musician. So, if there are a few saxophone teachers in your area, meet up with a few to see who you or your child would get along with the best. Everyone likes to learn in different ways, so finding a good match can help create a musical bond with your teacher that can keep you interested and learning for years.

2) Set goals with the teacher before starting and find a song to learn.

It's important to have reasonable expectations, but I have always found it much more fun as a teacher when students want to learn specific songs. Learning the entire guitar solo to Bohemian Rhapsody after a month of starting your instrument may not be a realistic goal, but talk with your teacher about some songs that you want to learn and they will be able to help guide you toward something within your skill level. And don't worry, with enough practice, you will be able to rock out to Queen on any instrument you want to.

1) Get a good quality beginner instrument

 Buying a higher quality - but pre-owned - instrument is advisable over buying a cheaper, poorly made one.

Buying a higher quality - but pre-owned - instrument is advisable over buying a cheaper, poorly made one.

You don't need a million-dollar instrument to learn on, but having something that won't fall apart in a month will save you a lot of frustration. The cheapest option is usually cheap for a reason, and poorly crafted instruments are simply not fun to play. It's not fun when your guitar goes out of tune after the first note, or when your saxophone keys start leaking after a month. Repair techs will often not work on very cheaply made instruments as one repair won't fix all of the instrument's problems, and new problems are bound to come up with poor workmanship. It'll often be easier and cheaper to simply buy a better instrument. But, you can still save some money by sticking to known brands that make student instruments or renting for a little while. You can also get a recommendation from your teacher as they may know of some people selling well-made, used instruments.

New Prototype Model

We've learned a lot over the last year and decided it was time to revise the prototype. The style has been streamlined and modernized.

Gone is the grill at the bottom. Instead of being at the bottom, the speaker is now at the top behind the new logo. This provides better projection of the sound. The thumb hook has been moved to increase comfort for all hand sizes.

The buttons have been given a slight convex curve to provide tactile feedback that helps you keep proper form.

We've added a 1/4" jack to be used just for effects pedals and guitar amplifiers, eliminating the need for an adapter to go from from a 1/8" headphone jack to standard 1/4" jack.

Internally, the firmware continues to evolve and improve in performance. USB Audio has been added to the USB MIDI so that now, if you connect the Vindor to a computer, you can more easily play along to videos and synths. We've added support for iPads, iPhones and some Android devices. Alas, not all Android devices will work well because of latency issues.

Zumix Graduation Recital

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The Zumix Experimental Music Ensemble plays and sings their own composition for parents and teachers in May 2016. Melody and bass lines were played on Vindors. This was the second class taught at Zumix using the Vindor. We were very proud of all the kids who participated. Thanks also to the talented and devoted staff at Zumix.